LOS ANGELES — Her dream was to work in TV and film, but after a decade in show biz, Hillary Cohen found her calling not on a movie set but in a parking lot.
Every day, just as crews finish up their lunch, Cohen, an associate producer on the hit show "NCIS: Los Angeles," swoops in and loads up her trunk with leftovers.
"This looks like some delicious Asian food, some noodles, rice, pork," Cohen said as she inspected her day's loot.
For a little over a year, Cohen and her team of volunteers at a nonprofit called Everyday Action have been scouring TV and movie set parking lots, hoping to get their hands on some of Hollywood's surplus catering.
"We've now grown to 30 sets over the one year we've been around," Cohen said. "We've saved 110,000 meals this year, which is bigger than the Rose Bowl. I think that's insane."
It all started when Cohen and her colleague, "NCIS" Assistant Director Sam Luu, watched as thousands of pounds of perfectly good food were being thrown out at the end of each shoot, sometimes just feet away from the homeless.
"And I said, 'Why can't I give it to people on the other side of the fence?'" Cohen recalled. "I was told, 'Well, we might get sued it's just easier if we throw it out.'"
So Cohen and Luu got liability insurance and started delivering gourmet meals to some 200 encampments all over town.
On a sunny September afternoon, Cohen headed to the Gower encampment in the heart of Hollywood. She's careful not to intrude, offering her meals and a kind word from a distance.
"You have to think of it as someone's front door," she said. "It might not be your ideal home but it's their home and I try to respect the space as if it was my house."
Tso Gtoo, a homeless man, living in a tent on nearby Carlos Street, was all too happy to accept her food. He said he'd been living at the encampment for almost two years. It was his first meal of the day.
"It's very touching," he said.
Within minutes, the meals are gone. There are just too many people in need and nowhere near enough food. For Cohen, that's the hardest part.
"It always makes me a little sad," she said, choking back tears. "Sam [Luu] and I always say, 'Not today but tomorrow.' So, hopefully tomorrow we'll have enough food."
She says that what keeps her going is the look in people's eyes as she hands them a warm plate of food.
"Food from a film set is so fancy. To like be able to give that to someone who's hungry — not only just food but legitimately good gourmet food that you yourself were eating — is like giving someone the best present," she said.
To donate food, visit: youreverydayaction.org